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Lawrence Ferlinghetti

1919–2021

On March 24, 1919, Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York. After spending his early childhood in France, he received his BA from the University of North Carolina, an MA from Columbia University, and a PhD from the Sorbonne.

He is the author of more than thirty books of poetry, including Poetry as Insurgent Art (New Directions, 2007); Americus, Book I (New Directions, 2004); A Far Rockaway of the Heart (New Directions, 1997); and A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions, 1958). He has translated the works of a number of poets, including Nicanor Parra, Jacques Prevert, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. In addition to poetry, he is also the author of more than eight plays and three novels, including Little Boy: A Novel (Doubleday, 2019), Love in the Days of Rage (Overlook, 1988), and Her (New Directions, 1966).

In 1953, Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin opened the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, California, helping to support their magazine City Lights. Two years later, they launched City Lights Publishers, a book-publishing venture, which helped start the careers of many alternative local and international poets. In 1956, Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg's book Howl and Other Poems, which resulted in his being arrested by the San Francisco Police for publishing “obscene work” and a subsequent trial that gained international attention. At the end, the judge concluded that Howl had "some redeeming social importance" and “was not obscene,” and Ferlinghetti prevailed. City Lights became known as the heart of the "Beat" movement, which included writers such as Kenneth RexrothGary SnyderAllen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, crediting Ferlinghetti with having helped spark the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1950s and the “Beat” movement that followed, although he does not consider himself a “Beat” poet.

About his work, the critic Barbara Berman wrote, "Ferlinghetti is a tonic for a world thirsting for the loving outrage and energetic reverence that helped reignite and sustain the enterprise of bard-fueled citizenship."

In 1994, San Francisco renamed a street in Ferlinghetti's honor, and in 1998, he was named the first poet laureate of San Francisco. He is the recipient of many international awards and honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters, the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, and the National Book Foundation's Literarian Award, presented for "outstanding service to the American literary community,” among others. In 2003, he was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2007, he was named Commandeur of the French Order of Arts and Letters.

He died on February 22, 2021, in San Francisco, California.  

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